When Jonathan Youngman first moved to Columbus in 2008, he quickly noticed something unique about the transportation habits of his neighbors.
Bike commuters were more prevalent than he had experienced before, from both an accessibility and affordability standpoint.
Despite the surplus of commuters, however, Youngman realized the lack of accessible bike maintenance shops in the city, and that traditional, for-profit retail bike stores were not an option for those that are disadvantaged or underprivileged in the Franklinton area where he lived.
Together with a few of his bike commuting and novice bike mechanic friends, Youngman took matters into his own hands and soon became the community resource for bike repairs.
“We started getting to know some of our new neighbors and helping them fix their bikes just as a way to be neighborly, really, and connect,” he explains. “We quickly realized that there was a lot of interest in learning bike mechanics and a resource center to support people in their transportation.”
Through his innovative efforts, Youngman connected with others in the Columbus biking community who provided social and financial support to make his passion project thrive. Eventually, Youngman and his team were able to move into their own space at 897 W. Broad St., a co-op where Franklinton commuters now have a safe space to work on their bikes.
While initially only run by volunteers, the grassroots upbringing of Youngman’s project quickly grew in size and demand.
“What developed over the next several years was exactly what the community wanted, because the community was very organically creating it as we went,” Youngman says. “But it did become apparent that Columbus at large wanted Franklinton Cycle Works to be more. To offer more youth programs, more on-roads cycling programs, and to just provide more resources more effectively to the community.”
It was then that Youngman and his team decided to expand and invest in their own dream, making Franklinton Cycle Works an official social enterprise. In 2017, Youngman came on as the Executive Director for FCW, catalyzing the next several years of transition into a successful social impact business.
“In a lot of ways, we are the bike shop for the neighborhood,” he says.
The shop sells bikes and bike parts for profit, as well as fee for service repairs. However, the core of his Youngman’s company remains in his community.
“Our main focus is the co-op; providing a space where people can come in and get access to tools and volunteer mechanics, nuts and bolts, cleaners, rags and everything that they might need to maintain their bikes in good working safe order,” he says.
The social enterprise also offers a suite of holistic programs, helping Franklinton commuters gain confidence and support. One of these is the “Community Rides” program. The program, which takes groups of novice bike commuters on the streets with a bike leader, aims to teach community members how to ride safely and comfortably on the roads, becoming efficient commuters. Youngman and his team also offer “Bike School Classes,” which provides a formal approach to bike maintenance, ensuring confidence and stability in Franklinton commuters.
Other programs like “Bicycles for Independence,” work with social workers in the city where those who do not have the means for transportation, are given a free bike and accessories.
At the end of the day, Youngman’s biggest mission is to serve the people of his community and break down the barriers of safe transportation accessibility.
“When you invest in people you raise the floor for everyone,” he explains. “I mean, people are what make up our communities. Our approach is really to invest in individuals and invest in people and that’s going to make our whole community and our city a better place. Transportation is very much about empowerment of people.”
Often, Youngman’s clients make less than $13,000 a year and are in dire need of empowerment when it comes to transportation as a means for survival. By combining three key elements of his company, the social entrepreneur is able to ensure that these underserved community members can have a safe and viable option to commute.
“These folks are having to make very difficult decisions about what they spend their money on,” Youngman says. “And by investing in those people, giving them a means of transportation, the first element is getting them good quality bikes, and lights, a lock, and a helmet. And then the second step is providing education around how they can use that bike effectively and safely and reliably.”
The third and final approach, Youngman explains, is providing a reliable network and support system for these commuters that allow for the normalization and confidence of bike commuting.
“Riding your bike to get where you need to go is not something that you should be ashamed of,” he says. “You know, this is something that we all do together and something that you can be proud of.
Throughout the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the FCW team pivoted to outdoor service repairs for the community, as outdoor cycling skyrocketed during stay at home orders. Now, they allow for others to come into the shop when needed, with special workshop nights on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Customers even have the option to purchase memberships for the co-op in the form of a small monthly donations. For those who are unable to pay, the memberships are free.
Recently, Franklinton Cycle Works has made plans to expand into the unoccupied space next door, turning the one-stop-shop into a full-service bike resource center.
The new space will allow for more community members to come in and work on their bikes, in a safe and socially distanced space.
“We’re proud to be part of what I would call, a very person-centered revitalization of Franklinton, where we’re reinvesting in the neighborhood and creating safe and welcoming places for everybody,” Youngman says.
To learn how you can support FCW and their latest expansion visit The Columbus Foundation Giving Store. To see how other social enterprises are supporting the Franklinton community, visit the SocialVentures Marketplace.
Founded in 2014, SocialVentures is a non-profit organization that advances remarkably good businesses—businesses that intentionally integrate social impact as a non-negotiable component of their business model. To contact SocialVentures, send an email to [email protected] or visit socialventurescbus.com.
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